The Tattoo Chronicles >> Archives >> Chronicle #17

Tattoo Chronicles #17 ~ 101 Biggest Jerks in Tattoo

Vince HemingsonBy Bob Baxter
As you all know, elsewhere on this website is my 101 Most Influential People in the World of Tattoo list. You know, the ten-at-a-time compendium of the people that I have met, watched work, seen their art or edited their contributions to the magazine I edited for nearly fifteen years. Or, if the truth be known, the 101 People Who Came to Mind When Vince Hemingson Suggested the Idea list. Some of these folks are dear friends, some are icons that deserve to be kissed on the hem of their garments and others have pissed me off plenty, but their contribution to the tattoo scene outweighed my initial animosity, so I included them anyway. Maybe that’s my problem: I tend to be fair. Maybe too fair.

One of the hallmarks of my magazine was, at least I thought so, my objectivity. If I went to a convention and everything was A-okay, except for the terrible food or the lack of parking or the too-loud music, I’d report it. Even when the promoter paid my way and gave me a free hotel room. In fact, the last review I wrote about a convention, The Freedom Expo in Chicago, was so explicit that I had to debate with myself whether or not to submit it to my publisher. And, to make things worse, the person who put on the event was a friend of ten years, Dan Collins. Here’s a sample:

The hotel: The best thing about the Hyatt was its proximity to the Chicago O’Hare Airport. There was even a free shuttle, but, no matter how you cut it, its one-thousand-plus rooms were situated directly under the flight path of about two Boeing 747s every sixty seconds and, if you opened the window to let air into your room, the sound was deafening. The rooms themselves weren’t bad. It would have been nice to have a high-def television with more than twelve channels, but that was the least of our problems. Since the only other restaurant was at another hotel down the street and around the corner (Gibson’s steakhouse), we were pretty much confined to the fare at the grill downstairs. The dinner on the first night that we arrived was pretty good (prime rib), but, next morning, we almost broke a tooth on the granola and, next day, the salmon on the bagel was so passed being fresh that I was sick to my stomach the entire weekend. I reported this to management and was given a seventy-five dollar credit on my bill. I’d like to say that we made due at the convention’s cafeteria-style food line, but with their tasteless seven-dollar-and-fifty-cent Italian sausages on a roll and terrifying sloppy Joes, we mainly survived with protein bars from the gift shop.

Tattoo artists Tin-Tin and Alex Binnie. Full body scans at airport security.

And if that wasn’t enough:

Sure, there were several excellent artists on hand—Boog Brown, Phillip Spearman, Larry Brogan, Uncle Tim Heitkotter, for example—but, for the most part, I’d never heard of most of the artists present and, considering I witnessed booths so crammed with people (three artists, three customers and a half-dozen witnesses eating sandwiches) that it was clear several of the participants didn’t know anything about preventing cross-contamination or practicing the sterile chain of events.

So as not to exacerbate the situation any more than I needed to, I finished off with this caveat:

Well, Dan, I have to hand it to you. You are just a human being trying to make a living. You don’t abandon your friends, get defensive or make up a lot of stupid excuses. You took it like a man and are probably going to give it another try down the road. I also hate it that the final convention that I am covering for Skin&Ink had to be like this but, on the other hand, I thank you for reminding us that the dysfunctional world of tattoo is full of pitfalls and, unless you know exactly what you are doing, the tattoo universe is one, gigantic black hole.

Which leads me back to my 101 Most list. Each and every time that I sit down to add the latest ten, an evil—I guess it’s evil—thought crosses my mind: How about a list of the 101 Biggest Jerks in the World of Tattoo? To hell with being fair, this is serious. Even with the ass-kicking I gave Dan Collins, he wrote me a week after the review was posted and thanked me for my honesty, agreed he had blown it and affirmed his undying friendship and admiration. But what if the repercussions were different? Hey, the tattoo world isn’t entirely made up of apologetic folks like Dan Collins. There’s mean motherfuckers out there: bikers, six-foot-ten basketball players, flipped-out divorcées and axe murderers, for heaven’s sake. And not all of them are as understanding and responsible for their actions as Mr. Dan Collins professed to be.

So, how about a list of Tattoo Jackasses, but only the ones who won’t fight back? You know, people who can’t retaliate… or won’t? That way, I could say practically anything I want (within the law, that is), and wouldn’t be as likely get rotten eggs tossed in my direction. Or worse. Naw, that wouldn’t work; mainly because the tattoo world, even the segment inhabited by 110-pound weaklings and feckless scaredy cats, has friends, or, more accurately, “excitable boys,” who would come to the aide of these more timid and non-confrontational brothers and sisters, just for kicks. Take for example, the run-in I had, a few months ago, with a tattooist whom I have known for over a dozen years, Mr. Juan Puente. Out of the blue, Puente wrote me a couple of scathing letters about an interview I did with the San Jose Mercury News, in which I was quoted as saying, “…More Americans than ever seem ready for ink. New shops are opening every day, and professional artists can make anywhere from $125 to $200 an hour, while the true elite can make up to $300,000 a year and have waiting lists two years long.” I might as well have said, “Juan Puente wears women’s underwear with bunnies on it” from the reaction I received. Consequently, my well-intentioned sound bite response during a forty-five minute newspaper interview became a red-hot debate on my Daily Blog. The objections, as you might expect, were not about the accuracy of the comment, but rather about the fact that I had exposed the “secrets” of the tattoo world. I had talked to a reporter about the “inner sanctum” of the tattoo world, the private sub-culture, where money is never talked about and who pays what to whom is never ever revealed. That’s baloney, of course, if for no other reason than you can walk up to any fourteen-year-old-girl in a super market and ask her how much tattoo artists make, and she’ll probably answer, “Kat Von D charges $1,000 an hour.”

Who to piss off?

But that was not the reaction expressed by certain members of the tattoo community, members that I’m not sure Mr. Puente, when he initiated his rant, reckoned with. Although he did say some borderline threatening things (“You don’t know what you started” and “Why don’t you do the tattoo industry a favor and shut the fuck up about what we make and how we make it?”), I’m not sure he predicted that I would get angry warnings of bodily harm, of which “I’m going to knock all your teeth out, you sonofabitch” is an typical example. There was also a death threat, but I’ve had those before. Remember, tattooed people are not all Sisters of Perpetual Mercy. Some are just plain looking for a fight. Any fight.

Several years ago, I wrote an editorial stating my unhappiness with not having a cool tattoo name, like Gill “The Drill” Montie or “Crazy Eddie” Funk. As usual, whenever I make an assertive statement about my relationship to the “real” tattoo world (I am after all, they say, a mere reporter, not a tattoo artist), I get threats: everything from, “I’m canceling my subscription to your fucking magazine” to “You don’t deserve a tattoo name, you asshole.” In this particular case, a well respected tattoo artist named “Uncle Tim” Heitkotter (another cool tattoo name) came to my rescue. “I have the perfect name for you,” he suggested. “Target.”

Airport security.

All that said and done, my motivation to write a top 101 Biggest Jerks in the World of Tattoo List would certainly not include Tim Heitkotter. But Juan Puente—for making a big deal out of a quote that, unless you lived in San Jose, California and read the newspaper that day, you would never have noticed—certainly merits a spot. For all the trouble it caused and the threats to me from his admirers regarding the health and safety of myself and my family, Puente might even make it to the Top 10. Along with, I might add, Damian McGrath, who, in a back-and-forth about his unceremoniously tossing my photographer out of McGrath’s Toronto Convention (after explicitly inviting us there to cover the event), emailed me with (I’m quoting from memory) the admonition that, “I’m not only going to break your arms and legs, but also the arms and legs of your faggot son.” To which I replied, “Which one? I have three.” I’m sure Mr. McGrath didn’t get the joke, or that he gets any jokes. Hey, maybe that’s the perfect list—one that could include Juan Puente and the many other rabble rousers, verbally-challenged (one actually wrote me that “no one knows what the word ‘elite’ means”) and various other burrs under the saddle of the tattoo world—The 101 People Who Don’t Get the Joke.



As editor in chief of Skin&Ink magazine for over fourteen years, Bob Baxter guided the publication to a Folio Magazine Editorial Excellence Award, making it America’s most respected and educational body art publication. He currently edits and writes a Daily Blog at www.tattooroadtrip.com, the ultimate E-zine and resource site for international tattoo artists and collectors. He also has his Tattoo Chronicles series and the 101 Most Influential People in Tattooing right here @ Vanishing Tattoo. To ask questions, make comments or demand an apology, you can email Bob at baxter@tattooroadtrip.com.

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